GENESEO — If Friday evening's Western Big 6 boys basketball battle at Geneseo High School had been graded on a curve, both the United Township Panthers and Geneseo Maple Leafs would have earned passing grades.
Still, there were times they may have flunked a couple of pop quizzes throughout the 32 minutes.
As it turned out, a hot start gave the visiting Panthers enough of a lead to hold off the hosting Maple Leafs 61-46 in a hotly contested game that belied the final margin of victory.
“I think we've made strides every game,” said UT coach Ryan Webber, noting a blowout loss to Moline last Saturday being the exception. “These two games this week (a win at Sterling on Tuesday) were good games for us to try to establish an identity.”
The visiting Panthers made themselves at home right from the start. UT looked unstoppable, hitting 7 of 11 shots from the field, including hitting 5 of 7 3-pointers as they blew out to a 22-4 lead.
“It's frustrating because we're so much better than we show sometimes,” said Geneseo coach Brad Storm of those first-quarter woes. “We felt like we weren't aggressive and didn't compete in the first quarter. Against a team that's aggressive, they are going to expose that and every team in our conference is aggressive.”
However, with the Maple Leafs in some early foul trouble in the second quarter, the young Panthers (4-1, 3-1 Big 6) struggled keeping that focus and approach as the Maple Leafs (1-4, 1-4) aced the recovery.
With Bristol Lewis and Kyle Traphagen on the bench, the Leafs battled back with Anthony Pierce and Thomas Henson each hitting three field goals off the bench as the Leafs cut the lead to 29-19 at halftime.
“The things you don't ever want to do is allow somebody to get off the mat and start feeling good about themselves,” Webber said. “Unfortunately, we're going to go through some young growing pains with that. I like how hard we played; we didn't always play smart. We have to make better decision both offensively and defensively.”
Geneseo pulled to within 35-28 on a PJ Moser bucket with 3:37 left in the third.
UT, though, had a response, rattling off the next 11 points. In that run, Daslah Geadeyan, who sat the first half because of a “coaches decision,” had a putback bucket and a three-point play for all five of his points in the game. Fellow reserve Malykai Trice also had his four points in that run.
UT had great offensive balance from the starters who combined for 52 points. Junior Darius Rogers led the way with 15, fellow junior Mahki Johnson and sophomore De'Vontay Wright each added 11 and sophomore Omarion Roberts tossed in nine.
The Maple Leafs showed much better composure Friday than they did in a lopsided loss to Rock Island on Tuesday when they committed 18 turnovers and did not handle pressure well.
Friday, they limited the mistakes against UT's ball-press, showing progress.
However, UT stuck to its game plan with its trapping zone defense creating havoc in the half-court.
“We wanted to make it tough on their three-headed monster,” said Webber, referring to Lewis, Traphagen and Pierce, who gave up his starting spot on senior night.
The Panthers did that for the most part. Traphagen finished with a game-high-tying 15 with 11 of those in the fourth quarter. Pierce added seven and Lewis had just one 3-pointer.